Black-owned company wants to reopen Gresham Save A Lot

Yellow Banana operates six Chicago-area Save A Lot stores, and wants to renovate and reopen the shuttered Gresham store. It would retain the Save A Lot name through the same licensing agreement as Yellow Banana’s other stores.

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Yellow Banana, based in Ohio, wants to reopen the closed Save A Lot store at 7908 S. Halsted St. in Gresham. It would still operate as a Save A Lot through a licensing agreement, but would be owned by Yellow Banana. The company operates six other Chicago-area Save A Lot grocery stores under the same model.

Yellow Banana, a grocery platform, wants to reopen the closed Save A Lot store at 7908 S. Halsted St. in Gresham. Pending approval, Yellow Banana hopes to open by the end of 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Two years after a Save A Lot closed in Gresham, plans are in the works to reopen the grocery store under new ownership.

Ohio-based Yellow Banana wants to run the replacement store under the Save A Lot name through a licensing agreement — something it already is doing at six other former Save A Lot locations in the Chicago area.

Ald. David Moore (17th) updated residents on plans for the empty building at 7908 S. Halsted St. during a July 7 Auburn Gresham community roundtable.

The Black-owned company hasn’t made an offer yet, but its plans have Moore’s backing. The company hopes to move in by year’s end.

Yellow Banana now has 38 grocery stores it operates as locally owned Save A Lot locations, including those Chicago-area stores.

Gresham also lost another grocery when the Aldi location at 7627 S. Ashland Ave. closed in June, leaving a food gap for residents. At that time, Moore lambasted corporations, including both Aldi and Save A Lot, for leaving the South Side community. The former Save A Lot Gresham location also sits across from a vacant CVS drugstore that closed in 2020.

The Chicago locations are in West Garfield Park, West Lawn, Woodlawn, South Chicago, Calumet Heights and Washington Heights.

Ald. David Moore talks to reporters in front of a vacated Aldi grocery store at  7627 S. Ashland Ave. in Gresham in June.

Ald. David Moore, joined by other members of the Chicago City Council, speaks to reporters in front of the vacated Aldi store at 7627 S. Ashland Ave. after it closed permanently on June 12.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

Most locations of the Yellow Banana stores are in economically disadvantaged areas, Michael Nance, one of Yellow Banana’s owners, said during the community meeting.

“I know in Chicago, the Save A Lot banner has really overstayed its welcome in many respects,” Nance said. “I know … they left with virtually no heads-up to the community. But me and my business partners, we looked at this as an opportunity.”

Nance, who grew up in a food desert in Cleveland, said since Save A Lot had gone through “a bit of a spiral” in recent years, Nance and his company stepped in and bought stores to provide communities with quality, affordable food in stores that were clean and aesthetically pleasing.

“We’re investing in these communities,” he said. “We’re very proud to say that we understand what we inherited. We understand the way that Save A Lot has tarnished its name in the city of Chicago.”

With the help of local grant funding and private investors, Yellow Banana hopes to renovate the shuttered Save A Lot store in Gresham. They have an “ambitious” timeline of opening before the end of the year — if they get the building, that is.

A mock-up of what the now-vacant grocery store at 79th and Halsted streets would look like if it reopened as a Save A Lot store operated by Yellow Banana, an Ohio-based firm.

During a virtual community meeting earlier this month, attendees were shown this mock-up of what the now-vacant grocery store at 79th and Halsted streets would look like if it reopened as a Save A Lot store operated by Yellow Banana, an Ohio-based firm that buys and fixes up former corporate-owned Save A Lot locations. Yellow Banana now operates six other such stores in the Chicago area.

Screenshot

“We’re committed to delivering a very different product at this location at 79th and Halsted,” Nance said.

According to Nance, about 60% of the products and goods come from Save A Lot. Previously, the company noticed some produce from Save A Lot wasn’t up to their standards, so they found other suppliers for those items, Nance said.

Longtime area resident Timothy Thomas said he and his fellow neighbors are skeptical of a proposal he deemed “very preliminary” — and hesitant to support a new store under the same name.

“The worst could be that it doesn’t come to pass,” Thomas said. “But also, if it takes on that same Save A Lot model, it is feeding off the predecessor, which is not at the same level as a Jewel, or Mariano’s, or Whole Foods. It is a discount-type shopping place — which is better than none — but some of my neighbors, we never shopped at Save A Lot.”

Yellow Banana values community input, Nance said during the meeting. If the store reopens, it would provide about 25 jobs, with benefits, paying above minimum wage.

After pushback from community members who questioned the idea of keeping the Save A Lot name, Nance said the store would be fully owned and operated by Yellow Banana with an emphasis on quality and affordable items. They also hope to add in local produce and goods to the store, along with organic options.

“I would say our plan right now is to brand this as a Save A Lot store,” Nance said. “We do believe in the overarching mission of the brand, even if we think they’ve dropped the ball tremendously.”

Thomas said he had not shopped at the Save A Lot due to the quality issues Nance mentioned — and he doubts Nance will meet the higher standards he discussed.

“They’re promising that they will make Save A Lot step up their game, so to speak. But the proof will be in the pudding as far as that’s concerned,” Thomas said.

Neither the building’s owner nor a real estate firm listing the property for rent responded to a request for comment for this story.

Moore is optimistic about getting a Yellow Banana-run store at that location.

“We’re working with the mayor to hopefully close the deal and find some money to assist Yellow Banana,” Moore said. “I think we’re gonna get there.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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